Adriana Gascoigne empowers women in tech

Adriana Gascoigne is the founder and CEO of Girls in Tech, a global non-profit focused on the engagement, education and empowerment of women passionate about technology. She is visiting New Zealand from San Francisco for a Q&A with Project Connect about how important it is to have women in technology.

Why did you set up Girls in Tech? Did you have experience with the gender inequality?

Yes – I had a lot of interesting experiences at the first startup I worked with. It was a really cool product and I was in charge of product marketing and involved with product development. I really enjoyed it, but felt there were a lot of issues. I was the only female for quite a while and there were sexual harassment issues and communication challenges. There was even issues with product development because you need diverse backgrounds on your team to get a clear picture of what people want.

What sort of problems did you see?

I thought the inequality was a big problem and isolationism was a big deal. Women were left out in certain projects and that happens because there is in-group favouritism, People want to work with people who look like them and have shared experiences and so it affects women’s opportunities to rise up in the ranks in the long term

How does New Zealand numbers of women in the technology industry compare globally?

I was doing some research but I couldn’t locate any figures that seemed significant to New Zealand. In Europe, less than 7 percent of tech positions are filled by women and worldwide women are a minority within tech leadership, accounting for less than 20 percent.

What can New Zealand do?

I feel like there’s a huge opportunity to grow and enhance the tech sector here.

There needs to be good role models and educational resources to support entrepreneurial endeavours and there’s a lot of potential in New Zealand. Xero’s [Managing Director] is a female and she’s a phenomenal role model. The community is growing and there’s more role models coming together who can help pave the way for women in tech.

Is Girls in Tech launching in New Zealand?

Not yet, but we are launching in Melbourne in September. So far we’ve received amazing traction from potential members, universities and companies. I feel like that will be a similar model for when we launch here in New Zealand. We’ll wait and see.

What is it about the technology sector that makes gender inequality so severe?

It’s severe in a lot of other industries as well, like the financial sector. But large corporations have more stringent laws and rules when it comes to HR and how employees treat each other.

In startups, you don’t have that infrastructure. When the whole team is 25-35-year-old dudes and no HR experience it’s like a frat party. People in general are nice to each other, because there’s very little hierarchy in a startup. But some things are overlooked.

Why is it important for tech to have women?

Because the tech industry as a whole is so male denominated it’s harder for women to immerse themselves and be successful. We already know that role models will help get more women and girls into the world of tech, now it’s about retention.

What needs to change?

Women end up leaving their jobs quicker than men, why is that? Do they want to go have a family? Or is there something in the work environment that isn’t right.  The environment needs to be safe for women, with flexibility for mothers on leave and more paid leave for parents.

What can the average worker do to help?

It’s important to pay it forward – if you are a mentor or sponsor, you have an opportunity to make sure someone is on track to success. Supporting organisations like Girls in Tech and university groups would have a big help. There is strength in numbers – the more women are involved in tech, the more it will be attractive to others. If you are high up in a company, and a woman, be accountable to pay it forward. That accountability is really important. 

Correction: This has been updated to reflect that Xero's CEO is not a woman. We assume she was referring to Anna Curzon, Xero's managing director